A team of scientists from TU Dresden’s Institute of Natural Products Engineering have developed an innovative new material replicating styrofoam. Made from discarded paper, the new insulating material has created an eco-friendly alternative for shipping temperature-sensitive items. The material can be recycled easily, and is also biodegradable.
The popularity of the polystyrene product, Styrofoam, has been centred around its value as a thermally insulated packaging material. Products such as fresh food, medicines, and floriculture all require passive cooling, and Styrofoam provides this without the need for energy input. However, as Styrofoam uses raw materials, and is difficult to recycle, it is not an environmentally viable option for many.
For this new product, shredded waste paper is converted into a slurry, moulded into slabs, and dried to produce fibre-based insulation. “The particular challenge was to adapt the preparation process and develop special fiber formulations so that the fiber mats have a particularly low density with a sufficiently narrow pore size distribution and the insulating properties reach their optimum,” explains Thomas Schrinner, Project Coordinator at the Chair of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Engineering. The final results demonstrate that this paper alternative has not only the required low thermal conductivity and high heat storage capacity, but in fact surpasses most other materials in its valuable properties.
That being said, the paper insulation product is currently wrapped in plastic film, which is a difficult material to recycle. With only 7% of the total packaging being plastic film, the new product is undoubtedly a more sustainable option than its plastic counterparts. Even so, researchers are viewing the film wrapping as a temporary solution, and are looking for sustainable alternatives.
German eco-packaging company, easy2cool, has adopted the new product and is in the process of manufacturing and commercialising it.